Science in Christian Perspective
Charles LyeIl and the Noachian Deluge
JAMES R. MOORE
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Deerfield, Illinois
and Christian Research Institute Wayne, New Jersey
Sir Charles Lyell was not only the most influential and prolific of nineteenth century geologists, but was also the cause of a great storm of controversy over the nature and extent of the Noachian Deluge. Understanding theological response to Lyell and his work as an episode in "the history of the warfare of science with theology" is valuable both as a warning to avoid repeat performances and as an aid to better understanding of the present debate.
From: JASA 22 (September 1970): 107-115.
Scientists and theologians who are Christians too often neglect history to their own intellectual impoverishment. What appear to them to be major modern issues on which turns the perspicuous truth of biblical revelation are often problems which were long ago laid to rest. They realize too late that their labored polemics and hastily-written tracts are often entirely anachronistic, exuberant rehashes of what was once stated and contravened either definitively or conclusively. The unforgivable fact is that without historical sense they commit the same kind of mistakes, which once discredited theft scientific and theological forebears. Since "all have sinned," we also are prone to follow this ignoble tradition unless we maintain a clearminded historical perspective on contemporary relations between science and theology. Moreover, without this perspective we shall have no appreciation for important contributions which have been made by way of solution to controversies which still engage us.
In this study I have chosen to discuss the great "high-priest of uniformitarianism," the flood furor his
work induced in theological circles, and the harmonizing efforts of nineteenth century Christian scholarship. The lessons to be learned from this history are at least two in number. For my part I consider the drama of dogmatic theology, attacking learned science.
A Discussion of Nineteenth Century Theological Response to Geological Uniformitarianisin.
well worth pondering in order to recognize repeat performances and treat them
remedially. Also, because the Genesis Flood and the philosophy of
have recently been so much in debate among modern evangelicals, I
think an understanding
of the seminal work of Charles Lyell in relation to its harmonizers
teaching may incidentally
illuminate the technical side of this somewhat dated controversy.
SETTING THE STAGE
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the problems connected with the Noachian Deluge did not so much concern its historicity as they did its universality. One problem arose from the absence in America of some Old World animals and by the presence of new varieties (viz., How did they find their way from Mount Ararat?). Together with the obstacle of insufficient water for a universal Deluge, these complications eventually compelled some scholars to put forth a "local flood" theory.1 In response, those who held the universal view advanced theories of the earth to explain its composition and to account for the waters of the Deluge without invoking a miraculous creation of water (thus rightly hesitating to lavish miraculous props on systems which ought, as far as possible, to stand on the "providential use of natural causation"). Patrick Cockburn's An Enquiry into the Truth and Certainty of the Mosaic Deluge and Alexander Catcott's A Treatise on the Deluge, together with the theories of Burnet, Whiston and Woodward2 were "so far successful as to establish for many decades the orthodoxy of the doctrine that the Noachian deluge was universal rather than limited in extent.3 In fact, that doctrine outlived the geophysical theories which attempted to account for the waters of the Deluge and the constitution of the earth.4
By the turn of the nineteenth century a new enthusiasm for the Flood theory of geology had swept Europe. Fossils, the rock strata in which they were found, and the major geologic formations of the earth were considered to he the result of the worldwide Deluge.5 But with its increasing sophistication the science of geology began to replace armchair theories of the globe; geologists frankly suspected that the Genesis Flood was being overworked. It seemed to them incredible that the year-long inundation could have done the earthmoving task to which it had been assigned.
In the process of second-guessing the mechanisms of geological formation, a heated controversy developed. The Neptunists, led by Abraham Gottlob Werner, and the Vulcanists (or Plutonists), the followers 0f James Hutton, were struggling to account for geological phenomena apart from the Flood.6 The Neptunists held that all rock formations precipitated from a primeval, mineralladen ocean. The water then receded and the continents appeared as they are today. The universal flood of Noah was assigned a later date. Unfortunately their ideas were formulated in a day when "indoor discussion of theories was far more popular than field study. "7 Werner's conclusions were based on a woefully inadequate foundation of induction which stemmed only from observations made in his immediate German neighborhood. His was a theory that left much to the imagination in moving from the very particular to the general.
In contrast James Flutton published his Theory of the Earth in 1795 when he was nearly seventy years old. It was a mature work based on a lifetime of wide-ranging field observations. Instead of diluvialism or mineral precipitation, Hutton advanced a reasonable though unorthodox interpretation of geological phenomena.
For my part I consider the drama of dogmatic theology attacking learned science well worth pondering in order to recognize repeat performances and treat them remedially.
he contended that dynamic forces in the crust of the earth created tensions and
stresses which, in the course of time, elevated new lands from the
ocean bed even
as other exposed surfaces were in the process of erosion. There had never been
a universal flood. There was observable in the buried shell beds of
which had long been taken as evidences of the Deluge, only the signs
and renewed uplift which were part of the eternal youth of the world.8
The key word here is "time." Hutton contended that the forces of nature he observed, in shaping the crust of the earth at the rates he observed, could only have produced the observed geologic formations by operating for many millennia.
Hutton's friend, John Playfair, apparently thought that the book would not sell because of its ponderous, abstruse style. In 1802 he took it upon himself to elucidate Hutton's writing in a popular edition entitled Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory. William Thornbury shows the eminent position of these volumes in his 1954 publication, Principles of Geornorphology:
Concept 1 The same physical processes and laws that operate today operated throughout geologic time, although not necessarily with the same intensity as now.
This is the great underlying principle of modern geology and is known as the principle of uniformitariantsm. It was first enunciated by Hutton in 1785, beautifully restated by Playfair in 1802, and popularized by Lyeli in the nussierous editions of his Principles of Geology.
Without the principle of uniformitarianisns there could hardly be a science of geology that was more than pure description.9
Hutton's postulation of excessive time rankled the religiously
orthodox. If anything
was certain in their minds, it was that the earth could not be more than about
6000 years old. Bishop Ussher's "received chronology" must
since it was, they thought, unerringly deduced from Scripture. But
thanks to Baron
Cuvier, they were able to advance what seemed for the time being unanswerable
criticisms of Hutton's uniformitarian time scale. Cuvier posited a
series of aqueous
catastrophes to account for the major rock strata. The last of these,
Deluge, was held to account for the superficial deposits of fossils
in upper strata.10'
Theologians easily found time for Cuvier's catastrophes between the
of the cosmos in Genesis 1:1 and the restoration described in the six
Or the days of creation were understood to be ages of organic
by Cuvier's catastrophes (a notion generally considered to be
These theories found wide acceptance, especially among the leading
Sedgwick, Murchison and Bucklaud. William Buckland, Professor of
Geology at Oxford,
was a distinguished teacher, a committed Christian and the foremost
prior to Sir Charles Lyell. Buckland literally uncovered many important
geological facts which were considered to fit perfectly into the framework of
Cuvier's multiple catastrophism. With Cuvier he maintained that the major rock
strata and virtually all fossils owe their existence to a series of
that occurred in antiquity. He gave the name "alluvium" to
beds of hone and rock deposited by streams in recent years. The title
was reserved, for example, for the hones of elephants, tigers and
tropical animals he found jumbled together in a Yorkshire cave. This diluvium
he took to he direct and irrefutable evidence of the Genesis Flood.
Buckland announced the theory in his inaugural lecture at Oxford and, in 1823, secured his fame by publishing it in, Reliquiac Diluvianae.
The treatise was of such a high scientific calibre, in spite of its fallacious premises, that it firmly implanted the actuality of the Deluge in the minds of geologists as well as non-geologists, not only in Britain but throughout Europe and America.11
Baron Cuvier happily adopted Buckland's conclusions and in 1826 wrote that they
"now form, in the eyes of all geologists, the fullest proof to the senses,
of that immense inundation (the Noachian flood) which came last in
of our globe."12 Theologians regarded Rcliquiae Diluvianac as a
victory for the testimony of Moses, and belief in a universal Noachian Deluge
was more firmly established than ever before.
In a typically acidulous article on science and theology, Thomas huxley spoke of the atmosphere surrounding scientists during the twenties and thirties of his century:
At that time, geologists and biologists could hardly follow to the end any path of inquiry without finding the way blocked by Noah and his ark . . . and it was a serious matter, in this country at any rate, for a man to he suspected of doubting the literal truth of the Diluvial or any other Pentateuehal history.13
Into this tense climate came the inquiring mind of Charles Lyell. Lyell had grown up with an unusual interest in nature. From the day he read Boketccll's Geology his life was marked for further geological study. He left law school and the promise of a lucrative profession to study with William Buckland and to read James Huttnn. During his geological education he travelled extensively in England and on the continent, everywhere collecting rocks and fossils and making detailed notes on formations. Lyell, "with full knowledge of what had been said on both sides, became a convinced Uniformitarian."14 In 1829, six months before the first of his epochmaking three volumes, Principles of Geology, was published, Lyell outlined his ideas in a letter to a friend:
My work is in part written, and all planned. It will not pretend to give even an abstract of all that is known
in geology, but it will endeavor to establish the princi-ple of reasoning in the science; and all my geology will come in as illustration of my views of those principles, and as evidence strengthening the system necessarily arising out of the admission of such principles, which, as you know, are neither more nor less than that no causes whatever have from the earliest time to which we can look back, to the present, ever acted, but those
now acting; and that they never acted with different degrees of energy from that which they now exert.15
The substance of Lyell's great work is summed up in its subtitle: "Being
an attempt to explain the former changes in the earth's surface by reference to
causes now in operation."
It must he pointed out in passing that Lyell was a child of his times. The Newtonian, "cosmicmachine" syndrome which pervaded scientific thought during his era was evidenced and endorsed in his Principles of Geology. Lyell asserted that "the enigmas of the moral and spiritual world ... are found to depend on fixed and invariable laws" and that "the philosopher at last becomes convinced of the undeviating uniformity of secondary causes, and . . . determines that probability of accounts transmitted to him of former occurrences, and often rejects the fabulous tales of former ages, on the ground of their being irreconcilable with the experience of more enlightened ages ."16 However despite a mechanistic world-view, Lyell had definite religious leanings. His biographer, Thomas Bonney, points out that Lyell was a member of the Church of England, though one more enamored with its music and architecture than with its doctrine. Thus he failed to understand why nonconformity or free inquiry should entail ecclesiastical censure.
His mind was essentially undogmatic; feeling that certainty was impossible in questions where the ordinary means of verification could out be employed, he abstained from speculation . . . he was content, however, to believe where he could not prove . . . he worked on in calm confidence that the honest seeker after
truth would never go astray 17
Lyell's writings epitomized his intellectual and spiritual outlook. Anyone who
has read his Principles will agree with Andrew Dickson White who said
could have been more cautious." It merely gave a well-documented account
of the main discoveries which he and others had made up to that time. Then from
his legal training he imported clear and convincing logic to tie the
in illustration of the uniformitarian principle."18
Since Lyell must have been painfully aware that the Noaehiau Deluge was a major barrier to the promulgation and acceptance of his ideas, "he impugned the deluge explicitly in only one passage . . . . Generally he preferred the method of draining the flood of its influence incidentally to the development of his larger interpretation. "19 Said Lyell,
For our own part, we have always considered the flood, if we are to admit its universality in the strictest sense of the term, as a preternatural event far beyond the reach of philosophical inquiry, whether as to the secondary causes employed to produce it or the effects most likely to result from it.20
With characteristic reservation, Lyell instead advanced an interpretation of the flood diametrically opposed to catastrophist geology:
It is the opinion of some writers, that the earth's surface underwent no great modification at the era of the Mosaic deluge, and that the strictest interpretation of the scriptural narrative dues not warrant us in expecting to find any geological monuments of the catastrophe.21
Lyell found it geologically necessary to minimize the effects of the
the flood of its influence" meant for him that the universal
Flood must have
been far too tranquil a phenomenon to leave any
observable geologic effects. This was the so-called "tranquil-theory" which gained vogue with many geologists soon after Lyell's work came off the press.22 Lyell even took pains to show that Scripture itself permitted this interpretation. He said that
in the narrative of Moses there are no terms employed that indicate the impetuous rushing of the waters, either as they rose or when they retreated, upon the restraining of the rain and the passing of a wind over the earth. And with a touch of irony, he signalized "so remarkable a fact as that the olive remained standing while the waters were abating." 23
Sir Charles Lyell was by no means a villain. He was rather an honest, nominally-religious seeker after scientific truth who had no desire to agitate the Christian community. While viewing miraculous intervention in the course of nature with a distinctly sceptical eye, his naturalistic uniformitarianism did not prevent him from accepting the historicity of the Noachian Deluge.
AGGRAVATION AND ALTERCATION
Lyell's work was immensely popular and widely read both by professional geologists and, surprisingly enough, "by the cultivated public whose curiosity about the secrets of the earth was growing."24 However, as one might expect, laymen were confused by Lyell's relatively technical and irregular interpretation of the Deluge. Since orthodox biblical scholarship seemingly held the upper hand in theological circles at the time, laymen expected a refutation or synthesis of Lyell's tranquil, uniformitarian interpretation from Christian biblical scholars. But, much to their consternation, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Llandaff in 1831 invited Charles Lyell to be professor of geology at King's College of the Church of England. In a letter Lyell related their attitude toward his work:
They considered some of my doctrines startling enough, but could not find that they were come by otherwise than in a straightforward manner, and (as I appeared to think) logically deducible from the facts . . . there was no reason to infer that I had made my theory from any hostile feeling toward revelation.25
This seemed outrageous to the orthodox. In fact Lyell's perceptive friend, Poulett Scrope, quipped:
If the news be true, and your opinions are to he taken at once into the bosom of the Church, instead of contending against that party for half a century, then, indeed, shall we make a step at once of fifty years in the science-in such a miracle will I believe when I see it performed.26
Another factor which induced a flood-furor among the biblically
orthodox was the
humble recantation of William Buckland. In the sixth of the series of
Treatises" delivered in 1836, Buckland repudiated his earlier conviction
that certain "diluvium" may be accounted for by the Noachian Flood.
He rejected Ussher's chronology and agreed with Lyell's tranquil
asserting that the waters of the Deluge "produced comparatively
on the surface of the country they overflowed."27 The orthodox
and irritated by the progressive-mindedness of some of their brethren
and by the
defection of their Flood Champion. With regard to
the latter, Bishop Shuttleworth said, "Some doubts were once
the Flood; Buekland arose, and all was clear as mud."28 But at the bottom
of the mud was Charles Lyell. It was his work in fact which
popularized and ultimately
established the uniformitarian interpretation of geological phenomena and the
tranquil flood theory.
War was declared. The ideological struggle to harmonize geology and Genesis began almost immediately after the publication of the third volume of Lyell's Principles in 1834. One author has described the conflict in this fashion:
Attempts [at harmonization] have been variously classified, but the fact regarding them all is that each mixes up more or less of science with more or less of Scripture, and produces a result more or less absurd.29
Sir Charles Lyell was by no means a villain. He was rather an honest, nominally-religious seeker after scientific truth who had no desire to agitate the Christian community.
Although the underlying supposition of the absurdity of mingling
science and Scripture
may be itself absurd, many of the concoctions which boiled on the back burners
of "fundamentalist" brains were served up too hot to swallow even if
they had been palatable.30
Robert Blakewell wrote to the famous American geologist, Benjamin Silliman, that
geology is in a rather strange state in England at present; the rich clergy begin to tremble for their incomes, and seek to avert their fate by a revived zeal for orthodoxy, and are making a great clamor against geology as opposed to Genesis.31
It seems however of little consequence for our purposes whether clergymen were
motivated financially or spiritually. The fact is that they often violated the
canons of social decency, to say nothing of Christian propriety, in denigrating
geology and geologists. When it was found that Lyell did not
attribute the fossil
remains to the Deluge, and when it was shown by him that the earth is
six millennia, "orthodox indignation burst forth violently;
of the Church attacked him without mercy.. . 32
In reflecting on Lyell's final public address given before the Geological Club
in 1875, Huxley mentioned that Lyell "spoke with his wonted clearness and
vigour of the social ostracism which pursued him after the publication of the
Principles of Geology, in 1830 .. .32
Some clergy were motivated by more noble ends than financial gain. They took up the literary sword in defense of Scripture against the perverters of Divine Truth and published volume upon laborious volume of ignorant pseudo-science.34 It is a significant and understandable fact that few of these books are today extant. Since they enjoyed relatively little currency in their day and have been by and large trampled underfoot in the march of history, one must necessarily rely on the observations and quotations of those who had immediate access to them.
Hugh Miller, a prominent and popular nineteenth century geologist, wrote a chapter important in this regard, "The Geology of the AntiGeologists," in his book, The Testimony of the Rocks. There he relates a striking example of obscurantist reaction to Lyellian uniform itarianism.35 On the supposition that all geologic processes in the past proceeded at the present observed rates, Lyell calculated the erosion taking place at Niagara Falls and concluded that 10,000 years ago the falls were located as far downstream as the present location of Queenston. This conclusion elicited from a certain Scottish minister a fulmination typical of orthodox reaction to many of Lyell's tenets. Alter denouncing the calculation as a "stab at the Christian religion" in that Lyell alleged "the Falls were actually at Queenston four thousand years before the creation
of the world according to Moses the anti-geologist exultingly exclaimed,
It is on grounds such as these that the most learned and voluminous among English geologists disputes the Mosaic history of the Creation and Deluge, a strong proof that even men of argument on other subjects often reason in the most childish and ridiculous manner, and on grounds totally false, when they undertake to deny the truth of the Holy Scriptures.36
In 1838, two years after Buekland's recantation, L. Vernon Harcourt published
a hook dedicated to his father, the Archbishop of York. On the Doctrine of the
Deluge, a "grave book" according to Huxley, was an attempt to reply
to Buckland and Lyell. Although apparently succeeding at one or two points,37
Huxley refused to reproduce several of the arguments on the ground
that it would
be cruel to do so. He quotes Harcourt as impugning the scholarly
motives of Buckland
and Lyell by insisting that they were merely dodging the scriptural account of
the Flood.38 In the same year Reverend George Young, D. D. (author of
Survey of the Yorkshire Coast), published his Scriptural Geology, a
principally to an attack upon the rising uniformitarian and
of geology." Advocating full-blown Flood geology, Reverend Young
attacked the works of Lyell," especially in regard to their
[sic] assumptions" regarding uniformitarianism.39
Of the scores of hooks published in the nineteenth century attempting to harmonize geology and Genesis, one stands in stark contrast with all others. Though it cannot quite be classified with anti-geology works, one cannot resist using it to bridge the gap between the rancorous and the responsible reactions to Lyellian uniformitarianism. In Omphalos Philip Henry Gosse thought he had developed the panacea for all geological problems related to the age of the world and the effects of the Noachian Deluge. "Never was a book cast upon the waters with greater anticipation of success than was this curious, this obstinate, this fanatical volume," wrote the younger Gosse in his book Father and Son.40 Gosse believed the life of the universe follows a cyclical pattern and that it was brought into existence by Divine fiat at a particular point in its cycle. The appearances of development in matter at the moment of its creation he called prochrortic because time was not an element in them. The changes of appearance which have taken place in the life cycle of the universe since the time matter was created he called diachronic.
Admit for a moment, as a hypothesis, that the Creator had before his mind a projection of the whole lifehistory of the globe, commencing with any point which the geologist may imagine to have been a fitting commencing point, and ending with some unimaginable acme in the indefinitely distant future. He determines to call this idea into actual existence, not at the supposed commencing point, but at some stage or other of its course. It is clear, then, that at the selected stage it appears, exactly as it would have appeared at that moment of its history, if all the preeeeding eras of its history had been real.41
In this simple way Gosse attempted to explain away geology, uniformitarianism,
and its attending controversies. What he did not realize was that his
thesis" was compatible with an infinite number of parallel assertions to
the effect, "the universe was created n number of years (or minutes!) ago
with built-in history." Gosse's son wrote, ". . . atheists
alike looked at it and laughed, and threw
it away . Yet for those who reflected on the one "enormous and superfluous lie" which God had perpetrated (inevitably recalling Descartes' "evil genius"), he added, ". . . a gloom, cold and dismal, descended upon our morning tea cups."43
With other reactionary sentiments left unexamined43 we move on to consider the first and apparently final intellectually responsible harmony of geology and the Deluge produced in the nineteenth century. In 1840 John Pye Smith, Principal of London's Homerton Divinity College, published a book entitled On the Relation Between the Holy Scriptures and Some Parts of Geological Science. The book was an edited compilation of lectures prepared and delivered by appointment of the Committee of the Congregational Lecture. It represented a total shift of emphasis in the harmonizing. movement in that Smith generalized the Mosaic history of creation and the Deluge without attempting to find exact parallels between the geological and biblical records "44
Smith began by explaining his point of view as a spokesman for the Christian community and by outlining his level-headed approach to scientific and biblical truth. In science and Christianity, he averred, "Truth ... is our object," "All truth must be consistent," and "The criterion of truth is evidence.. ."45 He argued cogently for unlavished miracles in the sense of events which, supposing a given connexion of time, place, and persons, would not have come to pass in the ordinary course of things; but for the instrumental causality of which the divine plan had fixed the pro vision . 46 Smith also held to the infallible truth of Scripture when taken in "its own genuine sense," that is, with rules of interpretation derived from the text itself through careful grammatical and philological analysis .47 From this point Smith
went straight down the geological line, arguing forcibly the Lyellian position, and in effect conceding all the points that his theological partners had expected him to refute. Instead of defending traditional theology, Smith called for a new interpretation of it.48
Indeed, his unabashed acceptance of uniformitarianism is evident throughout the
work. He said of Lyell's Principles of Geology that it "stands forth among
the books of our day, very signally distinguished,"49 and in an appendix
to the volume he highly recommended
the volumes as "an admirable collection of facts, and which
facts from hypotheses. Mr. L. makes you acquainted with the former,
your assent to the latter. "50
What was Smith's "new interpretation?" After carefully reviewing past blunders in interpreting the Deluge vis-d-vis geology, Smith gave new currency and intellectual weight to what is known as the "partial-deluge theory." Smith examined meticulously the physical and geological problems connected with a universal Deluge. The origin of the water, the affect of the water on the earth's diurnal rotation, the size of the ark, the animals, rock strata, fossil remains, and a host of other objections, problems, and proposed solutions were
viewed and found to be best resolved by limiting the Flood to a small region on the earth's surface. While in accord with Genesis, Smith understood the Flood to have been geographically local, he believed it had also been anthropologically universal in order to fulfil the purpose for which it was ordained by God.51
Smith's work is still considered the basic text on the partial-deluge interpretation.52 In his day he was soundly criticized, not for faulty scholarship, but for iconoclasm. Nevertheless he stood firm in his commitment both to Lyellian geology and to Genesis, and in so doing his concerned, scholarly honesty commands our respect today:
It is a painful position in which I stand. I seem to he taking the part of an enemy, adducing materials for skepticism . . . The apparent discrepancies between the facts of science and the words of Scripture, must be understood, before we can make any attempt at their removal.53
He was however fully convinced that an apparent discrepancy
careful and sincere examination."54
If Cuvicr's multiple catastrophism distinguished attempts to harmonize geology and the Noachian Deluge prior to the time of Lyell, then it may be safely said that John Pye Smith's partial-deluge theory keynoted theological thought on the subject after the Principles of Geology had been in circulation for a decade. Most extant works from about 1850 to the turn of the century which evidence a significant degree of scholarship in dealing with the Deluge problem adopt Smith's theory in some form.55 Three of these are noteworthy.
The Genesis of the Earth and Man is an anonymous work by a Protestant
focuses on the problems connected with the antiquity of the earth and
ethnology. Its author wrote with the conviction that God's natural and revealed
truths are one, and that "we have not sufficiently emancipated our minds
if we cannot accept the revelations of science as well as those of
the Bible and
avail ourselves of the former to explain the ambiguities in the
Likewise in Geology and Revelation, a first-rate, scholarly account
findings, Professor Molloy of the Royal College of St. Patrick wrote
from a Roman
Catholic perspective that "truth cannot be at variance with truth. If God
has recorded the history of our Globe, as geologists maintain, on imperishable
monuments within the Crust of the Earth, we may he quite sure that He has not
contradicted that Record in His Written Word."57 Both books are marked by
a high respect for the work of Lyell. The first author speaks of
compreheosiveoess and perspecuity" and, in the same context, argues for a
limited both geographically and anthropologically." Molloy
geology as the "old theory which has gradually given way," a fact for
which, he says, ". . . we are mainly indebted to the unwearied researches
and great ability of Sir Charles Lyell."59
The Testimony of the Rocks was Hugh Miller's major contribution to the Deluge discussion. Miller, a capable field geologist and one of the greatest harmonizers of Genesis and geology that Christendom has ever known,60 observed that ". . . in every instance in which they [plain men] have sought to deduce from it [Scripture] what it was not intended to teach, the truths of physical science, they have fallen into extravagant error."61 Miller, following Smith, advanced vigorous arguments against the universal Deluge. He believed that "the deluge was but coextensive with the moral purpose which it served...," namely, that it was a local phenomenon, caused by God to annihilate those of the human race who fell under his judgment.62
Gosse (1857) believed the life of the universe follows a cyclical pattern and that is was brought into existence by Divine fiat at a particular point in its cycle.
Similarly writers followed Smith in religious encyclopedias, dictionaries and
Bible commentaries. Baden Powell, Saviliao Professor of Geometry at
support for his divorce of natural and supernatural theology (science
in Lyell's tranquil theory.",63 If one thinks that the Flood was
universal catastrophe, then, said Powell, he ". . , must also suppose that
it was not only miraculously terminated also, hot every trace and
mark of it supernaturally
effaced and destroyed."64 Jo Kitto's Cyclopacdia Powell therefore refused
to posit miracles, rejected eatastrophism and, without reaching a
in his synoptic article, leaned heavily toward the partialdeluge theory.65 In
the 1863 Dictionary of the Bible, John Perowne, Examining Chaplain to
of Norwich, gave up the universal Deluge altogether. Of this article
himself to hope "that a long criticism ... I supplied him, may
have in some
degree contributed toward this happy result."66 Consequently the article
clearly evidences Lyelliao influence in both its interpretations and citations .67 In 1871
The Bible Commentary, written by the Bishops and Clergy
of the Anglican
Church, espoused the partial-deluge theory unreservedly. The writer added that
even if the Deluge extended to great regions, the rise and subsidence
of the waters
would not have disturbed the geologic formations. Thus Lyell's
gained credence with Smith's limited flood.68
Finally a look at Lyell's status in America is in order. In an informal book composed of lectures for young men, James Munson Olmstead took pleasure in referring to Lyell's work.69 Hr agreed that there was little or no geological evidence for a violent Flood since its effects had been obliterated in the course of time.70 John Pye Smith's arguments were considered in detail with the hope that young men would, after carefully examining them, arrive at his universalist position.71 Writing in 1854, Olmstead was still quite removed from the mainstream of British thought where, as we have seen, the intellectual waters of the partialdeluge were far from tranquil.
Edward Hitchcock was one of America's outstanding uniformitarian apologists. He was in fact an internationally known scholar, and served Amherst College both as President and as Professor of Geology and Natural Theology. Hitchcock wrote, The Religion of Geology and Its Connected Sciences, "to exhibit all the religious hearings of geology."72 After a thorough historical survey of Flood theories which served to point out various excesses and problems in biblical interpretation, he signalized Smith as the foremost of all writers on the subject, declaring that
no modern writer has treated this subject with so much candour and ability . . . he is accurately acquainted with all branches of the subject . fully possessed of all the facts in geology and natural history.73
Since Hitchcock thought that there were good reasons for supposing the Deluge
to be local, both in natural history and in Scripture,74 he followed
of Smith with extensive quotations from Smith's book. While there
does not appear
to be a direct endorsement of Lyell's work in his book, it should be
to the casual reader that Hitchcock is defending Lyell, whose
tranquil Flood theory
he adopted without reservation.75
Hitchcock made sane and sobering observations on the relation between geology and theology.76 At the end of his careful review of the dilemma, and with far more penetrating hindsight than this writer's limited historical and scientific perspective can muster, he asserted,
From the facts that have now been detailed, it appears that on no subject of science connected with religion have men been more positive and dogmatical than in respect to Noah's deluge, and that on no subject has there been greater change of opinion. From a belief in the complete destruction and dissolution of the globe by that event, those best qualified to judge now doubt whether it be possible to identify one mark of that event in nature . . . .77
He nevertheless emerged from his study in possession of an orthodox view of Scripture. He was convinced that the genuine facts of science and the results of careful analysis of the biblical text will always blend in harmony. With clear insight he astutely observed that whenever "geology teaches us how to interpret passages respecting the age of the world, and the extent of the deluge, it is illustration and not collision."78
Smith (1840) understood the Flood to have been geographically local, (hut) also anthropologically universal in order to fulfil the purpose for which it was ordained by God.
This statement seems to express the new attitude assumed by nineteenth century
Christian scholarship in relation to Charles Lyell and the Noachian
John Pye Smith, theologians were prepared to
take Lyell seriously and reevaluate interpretations they had often forced on the text of Scripture. After considering the extremes of diluvialists Granville Penn and George Fairholme, Cunningham Geikie wrote in 1886 that "thoughtful men of all shades of religious opinion have , . come to the opposite conclusion; that the Noachian Deluge was a local one, though sufficiently extensive in its area to destroy all the then existing race of men."79 In Bernard Ramm's words, this trend was indicative of that "noble tradition of the great and learned evangelical Christians who have been patient, genuine, and kind and who have taken great care to learn the facts of science and Scripture."
Unfortunately Ramm could not avoid the painful fact that the noble tradition "which was in ascendancy in the closing years of the nineteenth century has not been the major tradition in evangeliealism in the twentieth century."80 In particular it has been American fundamentalism, as J. I. Packer is at pains to point out, which "did not in every respect adorn its doctrine."81 Perhaps British evangelicals avoid calling themselves fundamentalists because they have seen in their American brethren of that name the same ignoble attitudes which a century ago characterized their treatment of Charles Lyell and the Noachian Deluge. Those who have had closer contact with the atmosphere of the last century and have thus likely learned some important lessons, must witness with dismay the regular and frequent diluvialist publications in American evangelical circles: George F. Wright's Scientific Confirmation of Old Testament History (1906); George MeCready Price's Fundamentals of Geology (1913), The New Geology (1923), Evolutionary Geology and the New Catastrophism (1926), The Geological Ages Hoax (1931), and The Modern Flood Theory of Geology (1935); Byron Nelson's The Deluge Story in Stone (1931); Harry Rimmer's The Harmony of Science and Scripture (3d ed; 1936); Harold W. Clark's The New Diluvialism (1946); A. M. Rehwinkel's The Flood in the Light of the Bible, Geology and Archaeology (1951); Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb, Jr.'s The Genesis Flood (1961); and finally one must mention Donald W. Fatten's aberrant catastrophism in The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch (1966). Who can blame them for feeling uncomfortable with an appelation which has been applied to this diverse (and by no means complete) array?
The primary purpose here is neither to bring wholesale condemnation on biblical catastrophism nor to whitewash Lyelhan geology. Rather I shall be satisfied if I have fulfilled the noble calling outlined by Herbert Butterfield:
Taking things retrospectively and recollecting in tranquility, the historian works over the past to cover the conflicts with understanding, and explains the unlikenesses between men and makes us sensible of their terrible predicaments; until at the finish . . . we are able at last perhaps to be a little sorry for everybody.
But let me suggest that we not stop with pity. If modem evangelicals find their heritage in some of the scientific and theological viewpoints elucidated in this study, they must not content themselves with licking their ancestors' wounds. With Butterfield I must concur that "all the moral verdicts that we may pass on human history are only valid in their applica tion as self-judgments, only useful in so far as we bring them borne to ourselves."82
lEdward Stillingfleet, Origines Sacrae: or a Rational Account
of the Grounds of Natural and Reveal'd Religion (London: 1697; and
Clayton, A Vindication of the Histories of the Old and New Testament its answer
to the objections of the late Lord Bolissgbroke (Dublin: 1752).
2Thomas Burnet, A Sacred Theory of the Earth (2 vols.; Lon don: 1722); William Whiston, A New Theory of the Earth (Cambridge: 1708); and John Woodward. An Essay toward a Natural History of the Earth (London: 1695).
3Katharine Browssell Collier, Cosmogonies of Our Fathers (New York: Columbia University Press, 1934), p. 241.
41bid., pp. 229-30, 241.
5llenry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb, Jr., The Genesis Flood (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1966), p. 91.
6Chester R. Longwell, "Geology," in The Development of the Sciences, ed. by L. L. Woodruff (New Haven, Coon.: Yale University Press, 1941), pp. 158-63.
7lbid., p. 161.
8Loren Eiseley, Darwin's Century, Anchor Books (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1958), p. 71. Cf. Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield, The Discovery of Time (London: Hutchinsoo, 1965), passim.
9Principles of Geomorphology (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1954), pp. 16-17.
10Morris and Whiteomb, The Genesis Flood, p. 92. For Cuvier's position in his own words see Charles C. Gillespie's translation of Recherches sur les ossemens fossils, I, 8-9, in Genesis and Geology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1951), pp. 99-100.
11Francis FT. Haber, The Age of the World: Moses to Darwin (Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1959), p. 211.
12Georges Cuvier, Discours sur les Revolutions de la Surface du Globe (3rd ad.: Paris, 1836), p. 133, cited by Morris and Whiteomb, The Genesis Flood, p. 94.
13"The Lights of the Church and the Light of Science," Nine teenth Century, July, 1890, p. 5. Cillispie observes that this article is "a highly colored account of the influence of the flood and 0f theological obscurantism in general after 1830 (Genesis and Geology, p. 234). The article however is invaluable for its viewpoint and for the source material to which it makes reference.
l4Sir Edward Battersby Bailey, Charles Lyell (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1963), p. 85.
15Mrs. [Katharine Murray] Lyall, Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell (2 vols.; London: John Murray, 1881), 1, 234.
16Principles of Geology (3 vols.; London: John Murray, 183034), I, 76. Note the marked similarity between this view and that of David Hume in his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (LaSalle, Ill.: The Open Court Press, 1958), pp. 126-27. Gillispie concludes: "Unifnrmitarian presuppositions, than were simply those of optimistic materialism. Gratuitous Lyell's assumptions may have been, but it
opened the way for scientific progress (Genesis and Geology, p. 135).
17Charles Lyell and Modern Geology (New York: Cassell and Co., 1895), p. 212.
18A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (2 vols.; New York: Dover Publications, 1960), I, 232, hereafter referred to as The Warfare of Science with Theology.
19Gillispie, Genesis and Geology, p. 129.
20Principles of Geology, III, 273. Cf. n. 29 below.
21Ibid., p. 274 (emphasis mine). Though Lyell evidently objected to a catastrophic flood on philosophical and biblical grounds, he was justifiably discontent with catastruphist system builders. Lyell objected that it is unreasonable "to call the Deity capriciously upon the stage, and to make him work miracles, for the sake of confirming our preconceived hypotheses . . . systems built with their foundations in the air, and cannot be propped up without a miracle" (p. 45).
22Morris and Whitcomb, The Genesis Flood, p. 97. In reality this theory was proposed by the botanist Carnlus Linnaeus and was introduced into England in 1826. However after Lyell's Principles was in circulation, it made clear to many men of learning, as evidenced by the consensus of thought in reputable works published during that period, that the
tranquil theory was the best device known to harmonize geology and Scripture. More on this later.
53Lyell, Principles of Geology, III, 271-73. That the latter quotation is a dubious interpretation of the biblical record is demonstrated by Morris and Whitecomb (The Genesis Flood, pp. 104-106).
24Eiseley, Dorscin's Century, p. 99. For reaction to the Princi ples in scientific circles, see Robert H Murray, Science and Scientists in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Sheldon Press, 1925), pp. 51-65.
25Mrs. Lyeil, Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, I, 317. Lyell assurred Bishop Cnpelston of Llandaff "that there was 'no objection to his drowning as many people as he pleased on such parts as can he shown to he inhabited in the days of Noah' " (Gillispie, Genesis and Geology, pp. 140-41).
26Mrs. Lyell, Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, I, 317.
27Morris and Whitcomb, The Genesis Flood, pp. 98-99.
28White, The Warfare of Science with Theology, p. 232.
29Ibid, p. 234. This baleful conclusion-the ancient (and discredited) faith-history dichotomymars J. R. Van de Fliert's otherwise superlative analysis of uniformitarianism and The Genesis Flood ("Fundamentalism and the Fundamentals of Geology," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, XXI [September, 1969], 69-81). Note likewise LyelI's tendency to this viewpoint in the quotations corresponding to no. 20, 21, and in the following: "Sir Charles LyeB himself, who always treats the Scriptures with respect, indicates his sense of their scientific value by studiously excluding them from his 'Principles of Geology,' even from his learned chapter on oriental cosmogony (Charles Woodruff Shields, The Final Philosophy [New York: Scriboar, Armstrong & Co., 1877], p. 132).
Perhaps British evangelicals avoid calling them selves fundamentalists because they have seen in their American brethren of that name the same ignoble attributes which a century ago character ized their treatment of Lyell and the Deluge.
30The sense in which "fundamentalist" is used here-that described by
E. J. Carnell-aptly describes theological reaction to Lyell. Carnell said that
fundamentalism is a religious mentality which "draws its distinctiveness
from its attempt to maintain status by negation . . . . It is a
attitude. It is intransigent and inflexible; it expects conformity;
it fears academic
liberty. It makes no allowance for the inconsistent, and thus partially valid,
elements in other positions" ("Fundamentalism," in A Handbook of
Christian Theology, ed. by Martin Halversnn and Arthur A. Cohen, Meridian Bunks
[New York: The World Publishing Company, 1958], p. 142).
31John F. Fulton and Elizabeth H. Thomson, Benjamin Benjamin Silliman, 1779-1864, Pathfinder in American Science (New York: 1947). p. 135, cited by Haber, The Age of the World: Moses to Darwin, p. 220.
32White, The Warfare of Science with Theology, p. 233.
33"The Lights of the Church and the Light of Science," p. 12. Bonney made a remarkable observation with reference to this issue: "A large number of persons-among whom are the great mass of amateur theologians, together with some experts-are always very prone to assume the meaning of certain fundamental terms to he exactly that which they desire, and then to proceed deductively to a conclusion as if their questionable postulates were axiomatic truths. They further assume, very commonly, that the possession of theological knowledge-scanty and superficial though it may be-enables them to dispense with any study of science, and to pronounce authoritatively on the value of evidence which they are incapable of weighing, and of conclusions which they are too ignorant to test. Being thus, in their own opinion, infallible, a freedom of expression is, for them, more than permissible, which, in most other matters, would be generally held to transgress the limits of courtesy and to trespass on those of vituperation" (Charles Lye!! and Modern Geology, pp. 48-49).
34Edward Hitchcock correctly reflected that Christian men of good character have examined geological writings, not to understand but for the purpose of finding contradictions and untenable positions. 'The next step has been to write a hook against geology, abounding, as we might expect from men of warm temperament, of such prejudices, and without a practical knowledge of geology, with striking misapprehensions of facts and opinions, with positive and dogmatic assertions, with severe personal insinuations, great ignorance of correct reasoning in geology, and the substitution of wild and extravagant hypotheses for geological theories" (The Religion of Geology and Its Connected Sciences [London: J. lllaekwood, 1862?], pp. 26-27, hereafter referred to as Religion of Geology).
35Hugh Miller, The Testimony of the Rocks (9th ed.; New York: John B. Alden, 1892), pp. 42123.
36From the Scottish Christian Herald, III (.t838), 766, cited by Miller, ibid., p. 422.
37Morris and Whstcomb, The Genesis Flood, pp. 105-106.
38"The Lights of the Church and the Light of Science," p. 12, quoting L. Vernon Hareourt, On the Doctrine of the Deluge (London: Longman, et al,, 1838), pp. 89.
39Bynan Nelson, The Deluge Story in Stone (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany Fellowship, 1968), pp. 105-106. The fact that Nelson calls Young's book "excellent" is one of those unforgivable mistakes mentioned earlier which those who refuse to learn from history commit, to their own intellectual loss. Nelson's conclusion betokens this: "Flood geology, based on faith in God's Word and the supernatural, was not the type of thing the world wanted [sic], and henceforth it was ignored or ridiculed" (p. 110).
40Qunted by Martin Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (formerly In the Name of Science) (New York: Dover Publications, 1957), p. 126.
41Philip Henry Gosse, Ompholoa: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot (London: J. Van Voorst, 1857), p. 351. Chateaubriand first gave birth to this idea in the eighteenth century (Oeuvres completes de Chateaubriand, II, 83) and Gnsse nursed it back to health in 1857. The notion died with Omphalos and, apparently without a careful reading of history, Morris and Whitcomb have disinterred this philosophical corpse in their "apparent-age" thesis. Cf. The Genesis Flood, pp. 232-43, 345-69.
42From the younger Gosse's work, Father and Son, quoted by Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, p. 127.
43Works which might profitably be examined but were unavailable to this writer are: A Brief and Complete Refutation of the Anti-Scriptural Theory of Geologists, by a Clergyman of the Church of England; Exposure of the Principles of Modern Geology, by P. M. M'Farlane; Popular Geology Subversive of Divine Revelation, by Reverend Henry Cole; and Strictures on Geology and Astronomy, by Reverend R. Wilson. The mere mention of their titles serves the purposes of the present study. And what was Lyell's reaction to all this clamor? He "very seldom spoke of the Biblical geologists, yet evidentally relished the peculiar irony which had made Burnet's 'Sacred Theory of the Earth' a favorite at the Court of Charles II. and pointed Butler's jest in Hudibras:
'He knew the seat of Paradise, Could tell in what degree it lies;
And, as he was disposed, could prove it, Below the moon or else above it'"
(Shields, The Final Philosophy, pp. 62-63).
44Haber, The Age of the World: Moses to Darwin, p. 236.
45John Pye Smith, On the Relation Between the Holy Scriptures and Same Parts of Geological Science (New York: D. Appleton & Go., 1840), pp. 26-28, hereafter referred to as Geology and Scripture.
46Ibid., p. 82.
47Smith's explanation of the Genesis revelation as written in terms of "analngieal representation," that is, "representative to the senses, chiefly that of sight and in words descriptive of those representations," is a highly tenable phenomenalogical interpretation of the Creation and Flood accounts.
48Haber, The Age of the World: Moses to Darwin, p. 234.
49Smith, Geology and Scripture, p. 195.
50lbid., p. 299.
51Ibid., pp. 242-252.
52See Bernard Bamns's citations in The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Exeter, Devon: Paternoster Press, 1964), passim, and Morris and Whitcomb, The Genesis Flood, pp. 107109.
53Smith, Geology and Scripture, p. 139.
54Ibid., p. 20.
55Possible exceptions may be: Facts and Fossils Adduced to Prove the Deluge of Noah and to Modify the Transmutation System of Darwin (1868), by George Twemlow (majorgeneral in the British army); Geology and the Flood (1877), by German Jesuit scholar Athanasius Bosizio; and Henry H. Howsrth's The Mammoth and the Flood (1887), which attempted to melt the ice ages. However it seems significant that Howorth only is mentioned in George MeCready Price's New Geology and in Morris and Whitcomb's Genesis Flood. White's Warfare of Science with Theology mentions Bosizio only, and then simply to illustrate foreign reluctance to part with the Flood as the universal solvent for geological problems. Nowhere have I found reference made to Twemlow except in Nelson's Deluge Story in Stone (pp. 113-14).
56[Edward William Lane], The Genesis of the Earth and Man, ad. by Reginald Stuart Poole (Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black, 1856?), p. 51.
57Gerald Molloy, Geology and Revelation (New York: G. P. Putnam & Sons, 1870), pp. 26-27.
58[Lane], The Genesis of the Earth and Man, pp. 50-51.
59Molloy, Geology and Revelation, pp. 220-21.
60Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, p. 173.
61Miller, The Testimony of the Rocks, p. 306.
62 Ibid., p. 353.
63Habar, The Age of the World: Moses to Darwin, pp. 241-42.
64Baden Powell, "Deluge," A Gyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, I, 545.
65Ibid., pp. 544-45.
66Huxlay, "The Lights of the Church and the Light of Science," p. 13.
67Rev. John James Stewart Perowne, "Noah," A Dictionary of the Bible, II, 570ff.
68Bishop of Ely, "Commentary on Genesis," The Bible Com mentary, I, 77-78.
69Noeh and His Times (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1854), pp. 136-37.
701bid., 1). 102.
711bid., pp. 174, 196-97.
72Hitchcock, Religion of Geology, p. v.
73lbid., p. 96.
74lbid,, p. 90.
75Ibid., pp. 87-90, 165-66.
76For example see n. 34.
77Hitchcock, Religion of Geology, p. 87.
78Ibid., p. 311.
79Hours With the Bible (6 vols.; New York: John B. Alden, 1886), 1, 169.
80Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, pp. 8-9.
81"Fundamentalism" and the Word of God (Grand Rapids. Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1958), p. 31.
82Christianity and History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950), pp. 92, 62, respectively.